Traveling the Web may be as tiring as touring all of Europe
As you read this, chances are that I am enjoying a beer, or perhaps some good red wine, in an outdoor cafe far, far away from my home city of Chicago. Since it's my first visit to Europe, I thought I'd try my hand at using the Web to plan my trip. Here's my story:
Notepad and computer printer at the ready, I fired up my browser to begin my tour. First stop: Yahoo!, where I promptly enter "Paris+hotel" in the search field. Out comes an Alta Vista search page offering more than 800 choices.
A LOT OF WAITING ONLINE
None of the first 10 matches seem to be what I was looking for, and most are in French.
Ah-ha! Number 12 on the list is A Paris Hotel Selection, dubbed "a selection of hotels in Paris based on the location, the charm, the comfort and the hospitality." Sounds perfect. I click on the link. And wait. And wait. And wait. Nothing happens. I try this several more times over the course of a day and never do see the selection. Charming.
The Yahoo! search continues. About 35 listings down comes another promising entry: Hotels in France, an online reservations service (http://www.hotels.fr). Clicking on this link gets me to a smartly designed page, complete with frames and a banner ad. The cute drawing of the purple porter carrying a bag makes me think: This is one friendly site.
Alas, it's also clearly not what it's cracked up to be. Clicking on the search button leads me to a form in which I'm to enter a hotel name (I didn't know one) or a star rating (I selected the listing dubbed "tree stars").
'I RUN SCREAMING FOR COVER'
Spotting the Britannique, a name I recognized, I click on the link. What I get is a message saying "this hotels has no more informations in our web site. Close de window to return to the list."
Suddenly I don't feel so bad about not speaking French.
Deciding that France-based sites aren't getting me anywhere, I click over to Travelocity. Clicking on Destinations and Interests leads me to a region menu. I click Europe. Then France. Then Paris, from a list of what must have been every city in the nation. Then, from a list of 18 topics, lodging. Then, I give up. Presented with a list of what must have been every hotel in the city, I run screaming for cover. Too much information, no way to sort it. This is not the great time-saver I expected.
Then I remembered something a Web developer had whispered in my ear. Check out Fodor's, he said. Hopping on over, I find a helpful home page offering articles to read, a hotel search function, something called the Personal Trip Planner and a variety of other information.
I click on hotel search, and up pops a list of cities to search. Paris. Price range? Very expensive. Oops--the company's not picking up the tab on this one. Budget. Click search.
In a matter of seconds information pours onto my screen. Hotel names. Phone and fax numbers. Mini-reviews. Amenities. A star next to the name if it's a hotel Fodor's approves of. All easily printed out.
FODOR'S WEB SITE A WINNER
Picking up the phone, I dial some numbers. The fourth hotel I try turns out to be a winner. Reservation made--by phone.
With reservation in hand I try out the trip planner. Using forms and clickable boxes, I choose Fodor's top restaurant picks and a guide to "can't miss" sights.
Seconds later my very own travel guide pops up, offering dining reviews and a slew of info about the city. Off it goes to my printer.
So what did my experience tell me? First off, that there's a lot of drek on the Web. That searching for specific information is neither easy nor fun. And that I'll probably never buy a Fodor's guide in a bookstore again, since just about everything I want is free online.
Here's hoping Fodor's can figure out a way to make money from its site, because it sure has the right idea about how the Web can be fun, entertaining and useful.
Copyright September 1996 Crain Communications Inc.